Wolf pack surrounding bison in Yellowstone Nat'l Park
The wolf's range in North American as of 2010. Note that small populations such as Oregon's wolves are not included.
Approximate route of OR-7 between September 2011 and March 2012 showing his entry into Northern California.
Wolves were once common along much of the West Coast, ranging from the Olympic Peninsula of Washington state through Oregon to Southern California.
Decades of hunting and other extermination programs, many intended to protect livestock, drove wolves out of West Coast states in the early 1900’s. Until recently, the last wild wolf in California was recorded in 1924, when it was shot in Lassen County. Those in Washington were eliminated in the 1930’s and in Oregon in 1946, where the last wolf was killed for a bounty.
In the wake of successful wolf recovery efforts in the northern Rocky Mountains and near the Great Lakes, the animals have begun to return to their traditional ranges on the West Coast, with viable populations now established in Washington and Oregon, and recent signs of wolves in Northern California.
Reliable reports of wolves returning to Washington arose in 2005. The state now has five wolf packs in central and eastern portions of the state, made up of three breeding pairs and at least 27 individuals. Naturalists have identified several additional wild areas in Washington that wolves could occupy, particularly on the Olympic Peninsula.
Wolves began returning to Oregon in 1999, and the first pack, the Imnaha, was first observed in 2008. Four confirmed packs are now in eastern Oregon, made up of one breeding pair and at least 29 wolves.
And there’s room for more wolves in the state. Naturalists have identified several other wild areas in Oregon that wolves could occupy, including extensive habitat in the Cascade and Siskiyou Mountains.
After an 85 year absence, a gray wolf was observed in California in December 2011. The 2 ½-year-old male, known as OR-7 or Journey, had traveled more than 700 miles from the northeastern corner of Oregon, arriving in California’s Siskiyou County.
Journey could be the first of many California wolves. Wolves were once common in in most areas of the state and there is plenty of sparsely populated potential wolf habitat in Northern California and the Sierra Nevada.
And there’s a lot more to Journey’s story since we first posted it in 2012.
This last May a remote camera in the Rogue River – Siskiyou National Forest, near the California-Oregon border, captured photographs of Journey along with a female wolf who appeared to be traveling with him. Wildlife biologists believed the wolves had paired and mated. And if the pair had cubs, the wolves would be the first known to have bred in the Oregon Cascades in a century.
Then on June 2, biologists found and photographed twowolf pups they believed to have been sired by Journey. They took fecal samples for DNA testing in order to make decisive confirmation, the results of which are still pending.
The birth of these wolf pups so close to the California border makes it quite likely that wolves will return on a long-term basis to the state. Anticipating such an occurrence, the California Fish and Game Commission voted 3-1 on June 3, 2014 to protect wolves that may find themselves in California under the state Endangered Species Act.
So we’ll see what happens over the next few years.
For now, wildlife biologists, who originally had not planned to replace OR-7’s tracking collar when its three-year batteries finally died, have decided to replace the collar in order to keep track of what they hope may be a new pack of wolves. And it’s pretty clear that Journey’s journey, and that of his offspring, is far from over.
Wolf Recovery Is Generally Good News For Ecosystems
The return of wolves is good news for the ecosystems that they repopulate, since wolves and other predators play a vital role in regulating populations of prey species such as deer and elk. And regulating those populations benefits a number of other species.
For instance, wolf reintroduction in Yellowstone National Park has made elk herds more mobile. This increased mobility as reduced the elks’ consumption of stream-side vegetation, which has significantly benefited beaver and songbird populations.
As for people, wolf reintroduction and recovery continues to be somewhat controversial. But it seems that QR-7 and his peers aren’t too concerned about our policies and politics— they just want a great place to live.
Sort of like all those humans who have migrated to California!